The #1 thing to read on a food label

It’s taken me 5 years of college and probably 50 times teaching a lesson on food labels to truly understand how to read them. They’re overwhelming!

As a teenager, the only thing I read on a food label was the calories (not that it stopped me from downing an entire bag of cheddar pretzel Combos, but hey- at least I knew). While calories are important, something else catches my eye more these days.

food label

As I’ve looked more deeply into nutrition science, I’ve realized the most important thing is the ingredients. Here’s what to look for:

1. the first ingredient listed makes up the majority of the product by weight

2. sugar can masquerade in many forms in a food so that companies don’t have to list it as the first ingredient- look for anything ending in ‘-ose’ (fructose, sucrose…)

3. the ingredients should be recognizable. The more crazy chemical sounding words you see, the more processed the food has been. Avoiding these foods is a main principal of clean eating.

When I started to think of food as fuel, I started to be a little more picky about what I am putting in my body. You are what you eat- and I don’t really care to be partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or high fructose corn syrup.

I’m not saying to disregard the rest of the food label. However, if you only include foods in your diet that have quality ingredients then you will likely also be cutting out foods that are a concern for fat, salt, or calories. Sorry Combos, looks like we’re overdue for a break-up.

 

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16 thoughts on “The #1 thing to read on a food label

  1. Great post! I just finished doing a Whole30, and I was amazed at all the junk in the convenience foods. I also found sugar in the least likely places. Tell me, why does taco seasoning need sugar? Anyway, I will definitely be a more informed shopper as I try to continue this healthier way of fueling my body.

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    • that’s such a good point with the taco seasoning- the scary part is you don’t even notice its there because our taste buds are so used to it. While you’re here- I’d love for you to share a link in my Tell ’em ‘Tuesday!

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  2. Food labels are always such a shock! I’ve known how to read them for a long time and I know that a lot of things are unhealthy. But there are so many labels I never read because I assumed they were full of good things only.

    2 years ago, we found out my daughter has a food allergy. So I started reading the labels on things I never paid attention to because I “knew” they were healthy, and it absolutely horrified me. There are so many variants of sugar they’re putting in things (and in huge doses)! And there are so many chemicals and preservatives you’ve never heard of. I mean, products that are marketed as healthy snacks for kids are full of things no parent would willingly give their child.

    I’m glad you posted about this, because I think for a lot of us, unless we’re in a situation where we have to read the ingredients, we don’t always look.

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    • Hi Christine!
      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s food allergy. I became more aware of mysterious food ingredients in college, but I too discovered a I had a food sensitivity. Have you seen “hungry for change”? Its on Netflix if you subscribe. Really drives home the message!

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  5. My hubby was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, much to his and my chagrin, so reading the food labels on pretty much any food we buy now has become a necessity. It’s incredible, and somewhat horrifying, to read how many chemical ingredients go into our favourite prepared foods, things we would never have considered putting into our mouths by themselves…blech!

    Because of the Hubster’s particular concern, I’ve been motivated to write a post this week on the different names and sources of sugar, since food manufacturers seem to go out of their way to obfuscate and confuse the average label reader into believing that there is less sugar in prepared foods than there actually is…shame on them.

    And I guess shame on us for falling for it, and not being advocates of our own continued good health; if we didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t make it. :o(

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    • I think that the food industry purposely tries to present its food as healthy for a sales pitch, its no wonder so many of us fall for it! I’ll check out your post for sure- it’s crazy how many names sugar can hide under! Thanks for reading and commenting- I hope you’ve found some normalcy with your husband’s new dietary restrictions, I know that can be challenging!

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  6. Yip, totally agree! Also, the less ingredients, the better. Whole, real foods should really only have itself as an ingredient.
    I once bought some sliced turkey meat at Wholefoods and on the packet it said ‘only 5 ingredients’ – that scared me a little..!
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